Here is the new Dave Dobbyn album – his first in eight years. Yes! If you’ve been waiting, you’ve been waiting too long…
Beginning with Waiting For A Voice, its title perhaps giving us a clue behind the delay between records, we’re in a different world, particularly as album openers and/or lead singles like Language and Waiting and Welcome Home have become archetypes. We’re into something quite apocalyptic, suddenly The Islander’s Hallelujah Song feels like the calm before this storm.
But it’s also a familiar world that Dave Dobbyn brings us to – that voice for a start. We might have had to wait for it, but it’s most certainly still there. That and the fact that we can, instantly, make comparisons between the new songs and the old, not for whether they sound alike, but how they usher each other in, talk to one another, acknowledge each other, first a wave across the room before settling down to properly catch up, Dobbyn’s records may go off into the world on their own but we spot the same chin or nose when they are lined up to photograph for the family reunion.
The producers of this new record are Sam Scott and Luke Buda of The Phoenix Foundation. The new collaborators welcomed into the family. A super-group of sorts has put this together, Dobbyn’s regular rhythm section merging with various Phoenix members. You Get So Lonely features those distinctive backing vocals giving this its, er, Foundation.
A record of two halves, Harmony House at first most closely resembles Available Light in the Dobbyn canon. It has obvious pop instincts and plenty of pep to its step, but there’s introspection in the lyrics. There’s also plenty of great love songs, the Dobbyn staple. He even, as he has so often done (Language, Loyal) hides them inside anthems. First single, Tell The World, is his latest big ole love song that rides on an instantly familiar-sounding chorus.
One Summer Storm (yet another song about the weather) might have found a home on Twist – or certainly The Islander and Ball of Light returns us to the wonderful world of the Dobbyn falsetto.
These, like Lament For The Numb’s offerings, are short, sharp songs. And at first I longed for a similar sound and feel and mood as that album – and though this is a more hopeful record, lyrically, thematically, there is – eventually – some of Numb’s mood, or at least its strength-through-vulnerability in the second half of the record.
But first Angelina – the second single, resplendent, its opening set-up shining out like a Pixies song, the rise and swell telling us that we have another anthem-in-waiting, another song that might have lived (in another life) on The Islander or Available Light.
Side two – and the album will be released on vinyl next month – sees a change of mood, Singing Through The Storm, is the first nod to Lament’s glumness, but it’s also the older head of Hopetown, a reminder too that until we get an actual bonafide “country” album from Dobbyn there are clues all across his catalogue, hints along the path, it could never arrive as any sort of shock – it’s always been there.
Submarine Blue makes spectacular use, once again of those Phoenix Foundation backing vocals-as-texture, before Burning Love shows us, in just 2.48 minutes why, songwriting-wise, it can take eight years to build a new album.
As seems to be the case all across Harmony House, this is both a brand new Dobbyn and the one we’ve always heard. Burning Love is as much as anything an update of You Oughta Be In Love. Where that had to be served with a goofiness, the sort of send-up befitting the cartoon movie it was written for, Burning Love feels like that song’s narrator some 30 years on, updating the sentiment after sitting down at the tealights to sup on a favourite, late-period Randy Newman album. It is his most direct, profound and exquisite love letter, which is saying something in a career that has been built around making the personal universal (Beside You, Guilty, Loyal…even Slice of Heaven).
Too Far Gone reminds of the Neil Young that sits down at the tack-piano be it on Freedom or Sleeps With Angels, the Neil Young that actually pours his heart out, rather than just simply telling you its gold.
And then, less than 40 minutes later we arrive at the end – which feels most wonderfully like a new beginning. Harmony House’s title track feels like a Phoenix Foundation song the band forgot to include on any of their recent albums or EPs. It feels, too, like something Liam Finn – or Neil Finn for that matter – might like to make. But you hear Dobbyn there of course. And you hear a Dave Dobbyn that’s inching forward always, even when looking back. You hear a Dave Dobbyn that recently worked with Don McGlashan, for Harmony House almost takes some of its mood and mystique from Envy of Angels’ closing, title track. Well, the line can be drawn.
If, lyrically, Harmony House concerns itself with hope, then musically that’s the case too. But in a different way. There’s hope here that all the old tricks, built up across a lifetime of playing, can evolve so seamlessly as to suddenly feel like brand new tricks. That’s how Harmony House has stacked up for me. Its foundation (that pun again, sorry, unavoidable here, I promise) so solid, so crucial. It is a deceptive album – anyone that would want to feel ripped off at first for waiting eight years for just 40 minutes of material and only a couple of “anthem” feels, only a couple of logical singles, is missing the point. This contains as much heart and soul as any Dave Dobbyn album ever has. And somehow it feels like a whole lot more than that too. As if a weight of a world had to be discovered first before it could be lifted. And that’s been worth the wait. This here is the measurement. This here is the gold.
For more about the new Dave Dobbyn album, including some snippets of songs and a conversation that goes on to cover his entire career check out the recent episode of Sweetman Podcast – my coversation with Dave Dobbyn.